Alabeo Cruz PiperSport
FSX/P3D. When Alabeo released their PiperSport a few months ago, I was absolutely delighted! However, I was also a little confused. You see, they called it the “CRUZ PiperSport” and initially I could not figure out where they got that name from. So, here’s a wee bit of history.
The real aircraft first saw life in 2006 as the Czech Aircraft Works (CZAW) SportCruiser. It’s an all-aluminum, low-wing configuration Light Sport Aircraft, and it’s typically powered by the ubiquitous Rotax 912 (100hp) or the Jabiru 330 (120hp) engine.
Well, the Czech company must have thought they’d reached their aviation field of dreams, because the machine caught the attention of the guys and gals at Piper a few years later. Piper saw the SportCruiser as a great machine with which to enter the booming LSA market, so a licensing deal was struck in 2010, and the aircraft became known as the PiperSport on the North American market.
[Note: For format purposes, some images are cropped. Click each image for full size resolution preview.]
Unfortunately, the partnership was short-lived. Some sources suggest the American and Czech companies may have had different approaches towards marketing, but whatever the reason, Piper announced they were withdrawing from the arrangement barely a year later. However, the aircraft itself was still a very strong and viable contender in the marketplace, so manufacturing continued in Europe, with the Czech company now operating as Czech Sport Aircraft, and the aircraft being distributed in the USA by US Sport Aircraft.
A name change for the aircraft was also called for, and with both a tip of the hat to Piper and a reference to the original name, the aircraft was re-christened the CSA PS-28 Cruiser. But we’re not done yet! There’s also a “basic” version to be had with traditional analogue gauges instead of the whiz-bang Dynon avionics, and that folks is called The CSA SportCruiser Classic.
So, in a short space of time it’s been called
- The CZAW SportCruiser
- The Piper Pipersport
- The CSA PS-28 Cruiser
- The CSA SportCruiser Classic
Well, a rose by any other name (and all that stuff!)… No matter what they call it, it’s a beauty, and so is the Alabeo rendition, and that brings us right back to Alabeo’s name for it. PiperSport we have figured out, but CRUZ?
It turns out that’s the four-letter ICAO designation for both the SportCruiser and the PiperSport. Maybe, in the light of so many name changes, the boys at Alabeo thought it to be the safest and most enduring moniker for their product!
I bought the PiperSport directly from Alabeo’s website, and quickly received an email confirmation that included the order number, download link and product key. I copied and pasted the download link into my browser, and within minutes had the file securely on my computer. It’s worth noting that the download link is only active for three times, so make sure you back up your file and also the product key!
After decompressing the zip file, I ran the exe, accepted the terms and conditions, inputted my details, and waited impatiently as the aircraft installed into FSX. I also installed it in P3D v1.4. Although the installer does allow for P3D v2, my computer is not set up for that sim, so that option was ignored. Finally, with baited breath, I launched P3D 1.4 to take my first look at the aircraft in the sim.
Let’s face it, anything that Alabeo releases is going to look incredible, and of course the same can be said of the productions from sister-company Carenado over the last few years. These guys have simply got it nailed when it comes to producing flight sim aircraft that look superb, and their PiperSport is no exception to this rule.
Alabeo offers the aircraft in six liveries.
- A white, unmarked version for painting purposes (although to date I have seen no repaints online for it!)
- N131FF in red and white
- N544JL in grey and white
- N568US with a tan, red and white scheme
- N457YL in a very dapper blue, white and turquoise scheme
- N346KU with yellow and white tones, just ready for a California summer!
Of these aircraft choices, two default to having just one pilot in the cockpit (N544JL and N457YL), and all others have two people in the aircraft. And although I am a great fan of Alabeo, this opens the door for my first request for a change…
Alabeo, for goodness sakes isn’t it about time we had some different aviators on board? These same guys have piloted all your machines up to now. How about a cute blonde like they have in the civil variants of the Just Flight Chipmunk? How about a mid-fifties bald guy? Anything different would be welcome! I also noticed that changing the payload and removing the co-pilot makes no difference to the appearance in the cockpit. The guy in the right seat can weigh zero pounds, but he’s still there! Enough said, it’s a relatively minor point, but the fact that it is noticeable means it is worth commenting upon.
All the aircraft have the same panel and upholstery in the VC, and it is very believable and makes for a pleasant place to view the FS world from. In fact, the Alabeo rendition is most like the SportCruiser Classic in the sense that the instrumentation is standard analogue.
And that opens the door for mini-gripe number two. Several years ago, another company released their version of the SportCruiser. It did not have the polished look of the Alabeo VC, but it did offer three different instrument packages, including both analogue and a nifty Dynon glass unit. Alabeo, I hope you follow the precedent set by some of the Carenado aircraft and offer an add-on to this aircraft to re-equip it with glass. That’s the way many LSA’s are going in the real world, and you need to give virtual pilots that option too.
With the aircraft, Alabeo also provides quite a few document files.
- Alabeo copyrights
- Alabeo GNS530 users guide
- A text file regarding integration of the Reality XP GNS in the FSX aircraft
- PiperSport Emergency Procedures
- PiperSport Normal Procedures
- PiperSport Performance Tables
- PiperSport Reference
For those who enjoy reading references, there’s enough here to keep you busy for a short time, but don’t expect the depth of a Pilot’s Operating Handbook, for it’s not here. And maybe that’s saying something too!
You see, Light Sport Aircraft flying in the USA, and Advanced Ultralight flying in Canada is all about flying. I think back to my training in Pipers and Cessnas and so often I was wasting money simply burning fuel as endless checklists were completed. Years later I discovered ultralights, and then advanced ultralights, and suddenly I was up in the air before I knew it! Sure there are things to check, but there’s a simplicity to the experience that encourages flight, not long system checks. Perhaps that’s also reflected in simpler documentation, although I am aware that folks have criticized Alabeo and Carenado in the past for their scant documentation.
OK, enough of all that, let’s go flying.
Walking around the Alabeo PiperSport elicits nods of satisfaction and sounds of appreciation, it just looks so very very good! From the sleek lines, to the vibrant colour schemes, the attention to detail is highly commendable. Up front you can see it in the 3d-modeled propeller animation, and fully-modeled air scoops on the engine cowling. Every detail is precise and modeled, there’s no reliance on textures where something can be created in 3d. Get in close and the detail just keeps on coming. Brake pipes, door handles, mechanisms for the control surfaces, it is truly a work of art. Well done!
While looking close-up at the flaps, I happened to turn on the engine. The aircraft immediately exhibited a momentary nose down stance as the prop began to bite into the air, I shook my head in wonder as literally every undercarriage leg reacted independently to the forces, and then there was a subtle shiver through the wings as the engine ticked over with a genuine Rotax sound. Very nice Alabeo!
Inside that gorgeous-looking VC, I started to take in more details. The carpet looks like carpet, the leather looks like leather. On the center console, even the screws are fully modeled. Instruments are 3d of course, and there’s that scratched glass effect that Alabeo is now famous for. Sitting in that VC, you want to fly this thing, heck you want to fly it in real life let alone in the simulator!
I close the canopy and watch the warning light go out. It shuts with a distinct clunk. I open it again and notice the audio is different from what you hear when closing it. Detail!
Looking across the panel, this is simple flying. The six pack is right in front, and below it are switches for Master Battery, Master Generator, and then avionics, fuel pump and lights in a horizontal band. Mag and ignition is placed for right-hand use, meaning your hand would be off the throttle during start-up. I check the brakes and start her again. The RPM needle bursts into life right away, and so does the fuel pressure indicator below it. The sound file is nicely synchronized to the engine start up, but I notice that this cannot be said when the engine is switched off inside the VC. In that case the prop has already been stopped for about a second before the sound catches up to it.
The Garmin GNS 530 takes pride of place in the center of the panel, and if you can use the standard FSX units you’ll have no problems here. Below the GNS is an Apollo SL40 Comm radio. Clicking on the unit brings up a pop-up window with a 2d GNS in it for changing the radio frequencies. The only operational button on the Apollo unit appears to be the selector to go from active to standby frequency. The Garmin GTX 327 unit further down the panel once again has limited functionality, but it looks good.
The right panel is neatly set up. Instruments include RPM, Oil Pressure, Oil Temperature, Cylinder Head Temperature, Fuel Pressure, Fuel Contents and Ammeter. In all the panel is clean and realistic. I google “PiperSport Cockpit” to check it against reality, noticing once again that almost every image actually shows a glass-equipped aircraft. I change my search to “SportCruiser Classic cockpit” and see a few more images of analogue panels, once again it confirms for me that the Alabeo offering is really the Classic.
I decide to refer to the documentation for a checklist (despite what I said earlier!). I find it in the “Normal Procedures” document. Throttle to idle, choke (do kids even know what that is these days?) – on for cold engine start, or off for warm engine start. Fuel select right or left tank, master switch on, fuel pump on. Ignition switch hold to activate, and then after engine start, turn fuel pump off, and other switches on as required. Simple, dead simple.
I set the throttle to 2,000 RPM for 2 minutes, and then push her up to 2,500 RPM and watch for the oil temperature to rise to 122 degrees F, or 50 degrees C. In my case, I’d been turning the engine on and off enough during my initial look, it was already there. A quick mag check follows, and then a check of both full power and idle, I’m happy.
I taxi out to the active runway, checking controls full and free movement, set flaps and trim, line up, and apply power up to 5,000 RPM. General Aviation types might be shocked at such high RPM numbers, but it’s perfectly normal in Rotax-powered machines. Another shock for those who are used to Cessnas, Pipers and the like is just how quickly you can be airborne in an LSA. I’m off the runway at a mere 40 KIAS after using practically no runway at all, and climbing at best rate of climb of 65 KIAS making sure to retract flaps before I inadvertently run into the 75 KIAS limitation. I notice my RPM has risen to 5,800 RPM, and I’m maintaining a 1,700 ft. per minute climb. Oh yes, I love these lighter aircraft!
In fact, I remember the first time I flew any ultralight/LSA at all. It was back in 1999, and I’d traveled to Barrie, Ontario to meet with the Canadian distributor of the Challenger line of ultralights. While some folks say that aircraft looks somewhat flimsy compared to later designs, what blew me away was the take off. Yes, you really do get airborne that fast, and you really do climb as if you are in your own personal fighter! Best memory of that first flight was shutting off the engine over a small lake, and then doing a dead stick, perfectly safe and controlled landing onto the water… and yes, it did have floats!
But, back to the PiperSport! I continue my climb to 3,000 ft, and then level off with the power set to 5,000 RPM. The book says I should be at 97 KIAS, and I am! I check for limitations to what you’re supposed to be able to do with the aircraft, hmmm… let me see, this won’t exactly be aerobatic will it? Steep turns will be limited to 60 degrees, lazy eights and chandelles are OK, and stalls are fine (except whip stalls.. never heard that term before!). OK, understood.
I clear the area, then throttle back to idle and watch the airspeed and altimeter like a hawk. I increasingly pull the stick back to maintain altitude, and then at around 35 KIAS there’s a shiver and the nose drops. I give it a quick burst of power, and then back to idle as I ease out of the descent. Good, I only lost 200 ft. My instructors would have been proud of me!
Shall I try a spin? Oh what the heck, this is a simulator right? I look at the red placard on the right side of the instrument panel.. “NO INTENTIONAL SPINS!” it says… OK, I end up obeying it! Instead, I decide to try a 60 degree bank and turn through 360 degrees. Oh that was sloppy! It wasn’t the aircraft it was me. I was not watching my instruments and it showed. Second time is much better, although I think I need to adjust my rudder sensitivity in the sim.
I decide to be adventurous, inspired by my memory of the Challenger flight. I climb back up to 3,000 ft and switch the engine off. Silence! Hee hee, the book says the best glide speed is 60 KIAS so I use trim to set that, and she gently settles into a 500 feet-per-minute descent. That’s useable for sure. I remember one ultralight I flew in real life where if the engine quit, let’s say you better have your emergency field pretty much beneath you! And taking about real life, I watched one YouTube video of a dead stick landing in a SportCruiser and it was just fine!
OK, time to head back to the field, but on the way I decide to test out the VNE (never exceed speed). According to the reference it’s 138 knots. I put her in a shallow dive and power up slowly. Yes, I whistle on through the VNE and the aircraft is still flying. I reach 160 knots before I call it a halt. And by the way, there’s a video of that in a real aircraft on YouTube too, in that case it was being flown by the chief test pilot for the manufacturer.
As I fly back to the field, I enjoy looking around at the countryside. The view from the PiperSport really is superb, although I did raise my seating position slightly. At this time I also tried the sunshade, and it works great!
According to the book, descent should be at around 60 KIAS. However, the reference also says that it is not advisable to reduce throttle to minimum on final approach as the engine can become under-cooled and lose power. As a result, the approach becomes a bit of a balancing act between power and pitch and airspeed until I deploy flaps, and then it is simplicity itself. Touchdown at 55 KIAS, and brake to use up just a few hundred feet or so of runway.
OK, overall impressions.
The PiperSport is my kind of aircraft! What I mean by that is this. If I could afford my own aircraft right now, it would be something like this. I sincerely believe that LSA in the USA, and in Canada Advanced ultralights, are the future of General Aviation. Sure, if you intend to take the family across the country then you might still want a Cessna, Piper, Beechcraft or modern day Cirrus, but if all you want to do is have flying fun, the lighter alternatives just cannot be beaten. In my mind LSA (Light Sport Aircraft) is Lovely, Sexy and Alluring!
And that translates into the simulator too. The Alabeo PiperSport is an absolute joy to look at on the ground and in the air. It represents an absolute feast of visual detail, and no matter what scenery you fly over, you’ll find yourself admiring the aircraft time after time.
The VC is equally enchanting, I mean you feel like you are actually in the real aircraft! The view is spectacular, the detail is pleasing, and flying the aircraft in the sim captures the “flying for fun” reason for the existence of the real thing. I can even forgive Alabeo for not equipping it with Dynon instruments, but I do still hope they will give us that option in the future.
So here’s my bottom line. If you love flying VFR in FS, grab this little beauty. It will not break the bank, and will be the gateway to many hours of pleasant simulated flight. And even if you are a jet jockey, check it out anyway!
And that brings me to a story! Quite a few years ago I was flying on an Air Canada flight from Vancouver BC to Toronto. I managed to get up front and chatted for a while with the pilots. A year later I was at Barrie, Ontario checking out some ultralights. Guess who flew in with his own personal advanced ultralight? Yes, the co-pilot from that Air Canada 767 flight! So jet jocks, do yourself a favour and grab the PiperSport for fun.
During my flights in P3D v1.4, several add-on sceneries were used in addition to Orbx Pacific Northwest and Orbx Northern Rocky Mountains. Specifically, flights were undertaken out of:-
- CEF4, Airdrie, Alberta – By Orbx
- KORS, Orcas Island, Washington – By Orbx
- 65S, Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho – By Orbx
These are great sceneries, and well worth adding to your collection.
In closing, sit back and enjoy some more views of the Alabeo “CRUZ PiperSport.”